Amid the reports of Russia sending commandos to take over parts of Crimea, the White House is concerned about the “Russian activity that appears to be inconsistent with the INF [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] Treaty,” said Brian McKeon, President Obama’s nominee for principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy. He also implied that Senators might had known about these violations during the Senate’s consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010.
Russia’s reported violations are consistent with the past Russian and Soviet practices. Moscow has violated every single arms control agreement it has ever signed with the U.S., including the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological Weapons Convention, and the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty. So far, New START is an exception, and even then reports indicate differences and concerns about New START’s implementation. The key question now: How long has the Administration known about the Russian violations, and why has the State Department not raised any of these issues in any of its compliance reports?
Russian violations, if true, raise yet another concern for U.S. allies in Europe who would be within the range of the Russian intermediate-range missiles. Russia’s main focus with respect to developing these capabilities might be China. But Russian missiles are mobile, and it would take Russia only a few hours to move them from Asia to its European borders.
Russian aggressive behavior in Ukraine and its nuclear weapons modernization also underscore the need for the United States to think long term about the policies it pursues and capabilities it develops. In the near term, the U.S. should advance its ballistic missile defense capabilities, including more robust systems for addressing enemies’ long-range ballistic missiles.
The U.S. should also improve its intelligence capabilities, especially those that allow the U.S. to obtain knowledge about foreign nuclear weapons programs. At this time, it would also be imprudent to conduct unilateral U.S. nuclear weapons reductions, including those mandated by New START. Continued reductions only encourage Russian bad behavior, just like a continued ignorance regarding Russian arms control violations does. The U.S. would do itself and its allies a favor by using the toolsWashington has at its disposal to address Russian violations.